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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 


Review by Brad Green:
Peter Gabriel obviously has an affinity with ambience. His recording studio might be stocked with the latest whizz bang technology, but it’s also housed in a restored 200-year-old water mill, deep in the Wiltshire countryside. In some of the rooms, the sterile environment of state-of-the-art technology is ameliorated with elements of natural light, a minimum of plastic and even a glimpse of a water view. 

None of which compromises the acoustics apparently. Real World Studios were designed in 1989 as part of a project Gabriel embarked on with WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) to expose ethnically diverse music to a broad audience. A thoroughly worthy venture that has met with mixed success commercially, although nearly all the musicians who record at the studio come away raving about it. 

So the ex-Genesis star certainly has the right credentials for an atmospheric soundtrack. These types of scores are always ambitious undertakings, because while ambience can be a useful tool for a skillful director, it inevitably sinks into the wallpaper when it has no images to support. 

Gabriel conquers these limitations with superior tonal styling. The samples are richly constructed, and the dense layering of timbres creates a textural aesthetic that substitutes successfully for familiar-sounding melodies. As well, the local ethnic flavours, the birdcalls, the Aboriginal tribal chants and the didgeridoos are employed subtly and tastefully. In the final cues, a backbeat and a modern choral hook combine sweetly with the traditional elements to provide the most accessible passage of the soundtrack. Gabriel achieves everything he sets out to do, without a hint of gratuity. 

During the score’s best moments you can practically hear the landscape. Which in a way reminds me of John Constable, the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century landscape painter, whose most famous works include a depiction of Stonehenge (just down the plain from Gabriel’s studio), and who once said: “The sound of water escaping from mill dams, willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts and brickwork, I love such things. These scenes made me a painter.” Perhaps if he’d lived Down Under he might have added rabbit-proof fences. Gabriel is not on the same planet as Constable when it comes to artistic genius, but he does share the old English master’s appreciation for what this planet has to offer. And he is talented and perceptive enough to tap that sensibility, and draw inspiration from the innate beauty of the world around us.

Published August 15, 2002

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TITLE: Rabbit-proof Fence
MUSIC BY: Peter Gabriel

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